LAST UPDATED JUNE 15, 2017 AT 1:52 P.M.
Republic Wireless review: Everything you need to know about the cheapest cell phone plan
A lot has changed since Republic Wireless rolled out its innovative concept of low-cost cell phone service using WiFi back in 2011. Nobody else was really thinking about using WiFi as a primary way to make calls and text the way Republic did.
“Many in the industry laughed at the notion that a new carrier could succeed with a WiFi first strategy,” Republic Wireless co-founder David Morken said.
Fast forward to today, the North Carolina-based company owns 45+ patents for key WiFi calling breakthroughs like Adaptive Coverage™. “We see a market where every major carrier plus a host of new entrants are now attempting to deliver WiFi calling to their customers as well,” Morken said.
Republic Wireless’s model of creating low-cost calling is a much emulated technique in the wireless industry.
Republic started their venture with $5 per month plans for unlimited WiFi calling and texting without any cell service.
The plans cost a little more these days.
Starting at $15 per month, it’s still one of the best deals around. Considering how larger carriers like Verizon and AT&T package many of their plans, you can save hundreds of dollars a year pretty quickly using a Republic Wireless phone. The best part about their plans is that there’s no contract. So if you have a compatible smartphone, you can just buy a $5 SIM card and start using Republic as your carrier.
WiFi technology and the processing speed of smartphones have dramatically improved since then.
5 FACTS ABOUT REPUBLIC WIRELESS
- Plans start at $15 per month
- Combines WiFi and cell networks for low-cost calls and texts
- Has 45 plus patents to combine WiFi and cellular networks
- Google Pixel compatible
- Can bring your own device
What network does Wireless Republic use?
The short answer is mostly T-Mobile. Your phone will use a WiFi signal whenever possible, whether you’re home or hanging out at Starbucks.
It only switches over to data when it can’t use WiFi. That’s the Adaptive Coverage technology that Morken just mentioned. It automatically senses when an Internet signal isn’t available. You won’t have to do anything to make sure your smartphone is switching between the two. Republic also uses a technology called Bonded Calling that draws from both WiFi and data when you need to — even if you are walking down the street.
Is Republic Wireless available in my area?
You can use Republic’s coverage check to quickly confirm there’s coverage in your area. If you’re living in and around a metropolitan area or large city, then chances are you’re good to go.
Using a patented algorithm, your smartphone switches between WiFi and cell networks. To reinforce your signal strength, Republic Wireless phones can also “bond” or draw from both your cell and WiFi network simultaneously to improve overall voice quality.
The company recently said in a blog post that they are bringing CDMA cell coverage to compatible 3.0 phones. Before I forget, Republic has a pretty unique customer service model. If you have an issue with your service, you can deal with it through their online support center. So you’re not dealing with some customer service rep on the phone who tries to bounce you around to 10 different people. Some people prefer a system like that. I don’t.
What phones work on Republic Wireless?
New customers have two choices: bring your own phone, or buy one from Republic. There are currently 16 smartphones that qualify under the “bring your own device” option. Republic is currently selling about a dozen of them.
Huawei Ascend 5W
Nexus 6 by Motorola
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
What are the plans at Republic Wireless?
Personally, I prefer the $20 per month plan. That gives you unlimited talk, text and WiFi data and 1GB of cell data in case you need it. It’s rare when I’m streaming without WiFi around my house or elsewhere, so this is more than enough for me. Here’s all six phone plans at Republic Wireless. All plans operate on T-Mobile’s 4G LTE network.
$15 per month, unlimited talk and text on T-Mobile and WiFi
$20 per month, unlimited talk and text on T-Mobile and WiFi with 1GB cell data
$30 per month, unlimited talk and text on T-Mobile and WiFi with 2GB cell data
$45 per month, unlimited talk and text on T-Mobile and WiFi with 4GB cell data
$60 per month, unlimited talk and text on T-Mobile and WiFi with 6GB cell data
$90 per month, unlimited talk and text on T-Mobile and WiFi with 10GB cell data
How much money can I save with Republic Wireless?
Bringing your own phone (if you can) is a no brainer in terms of saving money. But let’s assume you are starting from scratch. You’re coming from a large carrier like Verizon or AT&T and got sick of paying $90 per month or more for your phone plan. The best smartphone you can buy is an unlocked smartphone.
What is an unlocked smartphone?
An unlocked smartphone is one that’s not bound to a particular cell phone carrier. People who typically go with a larger carrier like Verizon, sign up for a contract and get the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy on a payment plan often don’t know they are limited their choices. They will pay hundreds of dollars for their snazzy new phone, never realizing that it will only work with the carrier that you bought it from.
The latest generation of phones sold by Republic Wireless are actually unlocked smartphones, but you should know that their phones can’t be used with other carriers. The unique software Republic Wireless uses currently makes the smartphones incompatible with other carrier networks. The company recently said it is exploring ways to allow their customers to use a Republic Wireless phone with other carriers.
If you want to see if you’re cell phone is currently locked, you can check out a FAQ by the Federal Communications Commission.
Do Republic Wireless plans have enough data?
Another worry for people on the cusp of breaking away from a large carrier is having enough data. I got rid of a huge data plan about two years ago, and learned that I barely use 1G per month even though I stream music just about every day when I’m out for a walk or a run. People also worry about losing their ability to tap into GPS features on their smartphone. Don’t. Our piece on how to use GPS without data on a smartphone outlines some options you probably already with the smartphone you already own.
How to turn an Android phone into a WiFi hotspot
Republic Wireless use Android smartphones, and you can set them up to function as a sort of portable WiFi router. This can be really handy if you are working on a laptop in an area where there’s no nearby coffee shop or restaurant offering an open WiFi connection. Typing a quick email or work memo can be a lot easier on a laptop or tablet than on a smartphone.
All Republic Wireless phones on the Clear Choice plans or older ones on Republic Refund Plans can tether. The phones just need to be operating on Android 5.0 or higher. You will also need version 2.1 of the Republic Wireless app installed.
Not all discount carriers (even pricier ones) allow tethering. I have a friend who is locked into a contract with a larger carrier and actually pays extra to use his smartphone as a WiFi hotspot. Not so with Republic Wireless. Instead, you can use your data the way you want.
Setting up your personal hotspot is a little different between a Samsung Galaxy S6 and a Nexus phone. This video will quickly explain how to do it.
Republic Wireless vs Cricket, Verizon, AT&T
Cricket Wireless offers a great service for low cost phones. I have used Cricket and their service delivers crisp phone calls and texting all over the U.S. That’s because its cellular network operates on AT&T’s network. Cricket is owned by AT&T and it’s not a WiFi first service like Republic. But it’s comparable because it uses a LTE Network for calls. Plans at Cricket start at $30 per month for 1GB of data. After your data is used up, you won’t get hit with a data fee, but your speed with be throttled. Having your speed throttled is a much better scenario than getting hit with data overages. If you’ve ever used too much data as a Verizon or AT&T customer, you know what I’m talking about.
Verizon and AT&T operate much the same way cable companies do. They lock customers into long term contracts then try to extract as much money as possible out of them through a structure of fees. The industry has discovered an amazing vehicle which lulls people into agreeing to some really horrible terms. This vehicle is called a smartphone.
You know that $20 that’s part of your cell phone bill that “pays off” the cost of your new phone? You should check to see if it ever goes away. Most of the time, it doesn’t. You keep paying. If I can only impart one thing with you today, I want it to be this: Start buying your cell phone outright. Treat it as an expense that is no different as a desktop computer or laptop. Do this, and you’re on your way to saving a heap of cash.
What’s the best phone for a Republic Wireless plan?
It’s no secret that technology in smartphones have only gotten better since Republic Wireless began experimenting with combining WiFi and cellular service.
I’m a fan of the LG Nexus 5X. It’s a slick phone for a lower price point compared to an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S7. The Nexus 5X has a 5.2 inch touchscreen with 1080p resolution. The display is made with Corning Gorilla Glass 3, which you’ll be thankful for the first time it accidentally slips out of your hand. Inside, there’s a 1.8GHz processor, 2GB RAM and a 2700mAh battery.
The camera is 12.3 MP and a infrared laser-assisted focus. Sure, that’s not the highest megapixel on the market, but the photos are high quality. My Nikon DSLR that I bought in 2009 is also 12MP. And people always remark about the quality photos my camera takes.
The company plans to soon add Moto E (4th Gen.) to its roster of smartphones for only $99. The Moto E has a five-inch display, 4G speed and a quad-core processor. It will operate on Android 7.1.
Huawei Ascend 5W specs
Huawei began an aggressive push this year to stake their claim in the U.S. market of premium smartphones. The China-based telecommunications giant is squarely aiming at happy iPhone and Samsung smartphone owners. Their latest bid reaches toward the middle tier market with the Ascend 5W.
Ascend 5W has a 5.5” HD LCD screen just half an inch smaller than the Mate 7. There’s a fingerprint reader. Android 6.0 Marshmallow operates on both phones. They also share in common a 13 MP rear-facing camera, and a 5 MP front-facing camera. The camera in the Ascend 5W is made by Sony.
The processor is not the same. Ascend 5W has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 chipset and 1.5GHz Octa Core processor. Its WiFi is 802.11b/g/n 2.4Ghz. So there’s no 5Ghz capability. There’s a MicroSD slot and 16GB of internal memory and a premium metal design.
The price for a Ascend 5W is also much lower than the Mate 7, and worth checking out if you’re considering going with Republic as your phone carrier.
Where can I get an unlocked smartphone?
Getting an unlocked smartphone can be an investment. Unlike buying a smartphone through a contract, you are paying full price up front. But there are some less expensive options for as little as $99 that will allow you flexibility to try out different cell phone carriers.
Amazon carries a large variety of inexpensive smartphones from manufactures like Blu. I recently bought a Blu Life XL for my mother, and I’ve been impressed with its performance for such an inexpensive phone. Amazon also has their own line of unlocked smartphones, some of which are sold at a lower price but show advertisements on the lock screen. The company also sells unlocked phones without the ads.
You could also buy directly from a manufacturer. You may have noticed that Republic Wireless uses a number of Motorola smartphones. Motorola also sells its own line of phones directly from its website. The company offers its own promotions and sales as well. So it’s worth looking over.
Are there any Republic Wireless promotions?
There are a few of deals for new customers right now. Republic Wireless regularly offers some discounts on smartphones, but these change from week to week so it’s better that you can check them out yourself.
Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble